Monday, February 27, 2006

Cypress Dropped at Robertson House

Probably 100 years ago, the Melin family at the Robertson House planted Monterey Cypress. Over the years, they suffer from the heat and dry climate of the interior habitats, mostly occupied by blue oak and other drought tolerant species. Monterey cypress generally are restricted to areas with frequent fog, mostly near the coast. As they have died, they became dangerous. One huge tree at the corner of the Robertson House was cut down about 10 years ago when it began to lift the corner of the house. That stump is about 50" in diameter.
About 10 large trees near the Robertson House had died and presented a serious fire danger to the housing area. As massive fuel sources, soaring well above the roads and houses, if they were to burn, approach or flight from the Robertson House would be impossible. So, about 2 years ago, Jaime Del Valle, our reserve steward, began to negotiate with the USFS. The Los Padres National Forest has a certification program for "fallers" or specialists (often associated with fighting fires) who can drop large trees safely. They took these trees on as a training and certification opportunity. With great skill, they dropped 5 trees growing near the old chicken coop without damaging it at all. The other trees, in a row above the Roberson House, were also safely dropped.
Now that they are down, Jaime is lining up the CDF Gabilan crew to spend a day cutting the limbs and making piles that can be safely burned on the ground in the next month or so. Here are some before and after pictures.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Warm, Dry Winter...No Newts?

With only about 9.8" of rain so far this winter season (compared to a long-term average so far of 11.7") we are facing a relatively warm, dry winter. Reported to be in "La Nina", we are looking at the first two weeks of February as being dry and in the upper 60's. January and February are generally our big rain months, so it looks like the highly variable climate of California has spun off a dry one. As we drive on our county road to and from Hastings, we keep unofficial count of the number of California newts (Taricha torosa) killed on the road. Remarkably, we have seen very few newts at all, alive or dead. Maybe this is defining the kind of winter when the newts just stay home? Elsewhere on the Hastings website we tell the story of how the newts can hike (ok- walk slowly) up to 5 miles each winter and spring, to and from the vernal pools where they breed. They spend the dry summers in the north-facing moist forest floors. Compared to last year, when we had abundant grass growth, this looks like it will be a more average year for biomass production. Of course, this can all change; recall the "Miracle March" of 1991.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Electrical Power to RAWS Hilltop

In preparation to move the Hastings Cabin wireless access point to the most prominent hill above the headquarters, we trenched about 400 feet from the water tanks where we had 110v power (ozone generators) to the RAWS on the hill above the old vineyard field. Jaime and Mark installed a utility box on the weather station towers and pulled the wires in conduit for standard power. We will install the antena and new wireless access point later in the month and it will provide a link to the School House and Red House, completing the headquarters coverage.

Roy Clark: Carmel High Volunteer

About 10 years ago, several Carmel High students, including Lee Krasnow (now an award-winnig wood and steel puzzle-maker in New Zealand) planted valley oaks around the headquarters at Hastings. These magnificent oaks can grow for 400 years, reaching diameters up to 6 feet. However, in the thickets of annual grass of Hastings' abandoned agricultural fields, these mighty oaks can't get started. Their seedlings are clipped off by gophers and as saplings they are kept as dwarf plants by deer eating the terminal buds. Thus, we plant the acorns in a bucket-sized basket of hardware cloth (steel mesh) in the soil, and put a protective tube up to protect the seedling from browsing deer.
Lee and his friends put up about 40 of these tubes, but time has taken its toll on them. Many are tattered and falling down. Several other CHS students have helped fix them in the past, and our newest volunteer, Roy, is busily repairing and replacing the tubes. Roy will also be volunteering his time for other projects around Hastings. Roy joins a nice group of great students from CHS who have an interest in natural history and enjoy doin outdoor projects.